They Drink it in the Congo, review of Adam Brace’s new play at the Almeida

Our critics rating: 
Average press rating: 
Wednesday, 24 August, 2016
Review by: 
Mark Shenton

We could certainly do with having our awareness raised of the horrifying civil war that has long been waging in the Congo. The closest most of us have come to it in the theatre is in The Book of Mormon, where a couple of young missionaries find themselves despatched to Africa. There they find the locals declaring, "eighty percent of us have AIDS/ Hasa Diga Eebowai/ Many young girls here get circumsized/ Their clits get cut right off/ And so we say up to the sky/ Hasa Diga Eebowai!" And what does that prayer mean? "Fuck You, God."

That's a rather more visceral response to the crisis than anything contained in They Drink it in the Congo, a much less irreverent attempt to make sense of what is happening there. Adam Brace, in his painstakingly researched new drama originally commissioned by the National but now being premiered at the Almeida, seeks to contain it through the story of a festival of Congolese culture called Congo Voice that aims to raise awareness of the region in London.

Sadly the behind-the-scenes committee politics involved in trying to stage this festival hardly make for convincing or riveting drama; it feels very much like a device to hook the play onto. It gains more traction when it actually moves to the Congo itself in a flashback that gives the event's white, Kenyan-born female organiser (a superb Fiona Button) constantly flashbacks herself, when she worked briefly there as an aid worker.

But there's too much going on -- it's sprawling, messy, uncomfortable. Maybe that's intentional; so is the Congo. Michael Longhurst's production is full of compensating colour and atmosphere, including live music and a set by Jon Bausor with its own thrilling surprise. But it doesn't always feel true to life.

What the Press Said...

"Longhurst’s production embraces the whirligig nature of the writing, aided by a magnetic Sule Rimi as Oudry, the “voice of digital technology” – an absurdly sharp-suited Congolese man who prowls the stage like a supercharged ringmaster."
Chris Bennion for The Telegraph

"Michael Longhurst’s production and Jon Bausor’s design actively embrace the play’s multiplicity of styles, which range from dialectical debate to graphic violence, and the piece is vividly acted."
Michael Billington for The Guardian

"Brace has bitten off a huge amount here, not least white liberal and post-colonial guilt, and it’s way more than he can chew in an uncategorisable beast of a drama that is exuberant, sprawling, frustrating and occasionally confusing."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard

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